6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2005
I was recommended to read this book 15 years ago and have never regretted it. The book's adult themes are dealt with extremely well, Donaldson's literary skills paint a masterful and vivid picture of a beautiful yet haunted Land on the brink of apocalypse. The author has a fantastic capability of bringing the past to the present, and evokes strong emotions as he draws the reader into the plot. Having read how Stephen Donaldson receives his inspiration I am amazed he can churn out such complex stories so consistently (read the rest of the chronicles and be in awe!) I have read and re-read this masterpiece and its sequels, and never fail to be impressed and honoured at having had the chance to read what is in my opinion one of the best fantasy tales of the last 50 years.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2013
I came to this book with high expectations. A lot of people had recommended the series to me, and so I was looking forward to something special.
The good points:
Epic in scale, well written, an incredibly detailed back story, a really well designed ensemble of supporting characters. Tales of daring do, high adventure, might and magic... I can understand why some people think that Donaldson is better than Tolkein.
And I would agree with them except for...
The bad points;
In all honesty, there is only one bad point - the main character.
Thomas Covenant is a great character up to a point - a leper who has lost his wife and child along with his life, he does not believe his mystical journey is real (hence "The Unbeliever" of the title) and is angry at the world as well as himself.
A great anti-hero, right? Yes, up to a point.
Thomas Convenant is as angry at the start as he is at the end. He doesn't change. There is no great revelation, no transformation of character, no new view of the world. Coupled with his perpertration of a violent sexual assault towards the beginning of the book, I did not like Covenant at all and even less wanted him to succeed. And yet he does.
And so I came away feeling that there was no sense of justice. There was no redemption and certainly no retribution.
I probably will give the second part a chance, but (within the Fantasy genre), I like there to be some measure of just-desserts, and there was none.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2009
Honestly I really don't know if I like this book or not. When its good, it's very good. When its bad.. well you can probably guess.
The main character of Thomas Covenant is a perfect example of this. In sort-of Elric fashion he is a weak and pitiful sort of bloke who is transformed into a legendary hero when he wakes up in "The Land" (surely a contender for Worst Name for a Fantasy World award?). In the real world he is a leper and shunned by society, but in The Land he is revered as a hero. This dichotomy is interesting and thought-provoking, and does set the book apart from many similar works in the genre.
However the way Donaldson writes Covenant quickly gets annoying, and the repetition of him constantly analysing his situations grates endlessly. Because of his disease and his past he struggles to cope with many things, which basically makes him angry or confused 90% of the time, which then makes the reader angry or confused by a similar proportion of his actions. The rape of Lena perhaps foremost.
It is well written however, and Donaldson is skilled at description and imagery. He makes interesting use of vocabulary as noted by other reviewers, and occasionally I had to reach for a dictionary to check on a word I had never heard of before!
But in fact I don't think that this book is really meant to be a fantasy book at all, not in the 'normal' sense. It is set in a fantasy world, but there it ends. The world is simply called The Land. The people within it are all perfect and good, the grass is green and pure and the water clear and sweet. Within The Land Thomas Covenant is healed and revered, he is worshipped. Everything is too perfect, as though Covenant's belief that it is a dream is in fact true. All this suggests that maybe Donaldson wanted to merely have this as a fantasy backdrop.
I think really that this is meant as a study of the psychology of Covenant, and the way in which he has been treated by society. Take his wife for example. She left him and took their child with her when she discovered he had leprosy, but Covenant still wears their wedding ring. In The Land this ring becomes a source of enormous power and respect - he is the White Gold Wielder.
It is as though the whole thing is invented by him to make up for the life that has been taken from him. But the reader is never quite sure if this is actually the case, or if The Land is actually real.
But even taking all this into account doesn't change the fact that Covenant is very irritating, and you frequently want to slap him or set him on fire to shut him up. Then the other characters might get some more time spent on them!
In addition to the annoying nature of Covenant, the fantasy elements of the book are also fairly weak. The secondary characters are all pretty wooden and just lifted from stock fantasy types. One particularly annoying feature is the amount of material that seems to have been borrowed from Tolkien and altered slightly.
>Slow moving giants that can't have children and talk really slowly and constantly go on about being hasty and such...
>People of the woods who live in trees and are fair haired.
>Short stocky people who like rocks.
>People who like horses a lot and live on some plains.
>Bad guys who live in or under mountains
This can be said of a lot of fantasy however, and really isn't the main thing wrong with the book. And despite all this, I think I did enjoy it. And there are some really neat ideas in here, like characters being able to 'see' the health of the land, the moon turning red etc. I'm just not sure if I actually liked it.
I don't think I have managed to articulate my opinions on this book thoroughly or particularly well, but I think I have gone on long enough. If you want a fantasy book that might make you think a bit, give it a go. But don't expect it to be anything too special...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2000
This is one of the best books I have read, the characters have a wonderful depth and color and there are always things to learn about them. This makes the book very beleivable. It is a mature read which means it can get very heavy at times. The further through the series I got the more I enjoyed it. The second series of books took a different stance from the first series where the 'land' has been desecrated and is on the verge of dying, Covenant and co have to fightfor the lands survival. Breathtaking !
This series of books should take pride of place on everyones bookshelf, if it ever gets there because you just cannot put them down.
Other books in the series are:
Lord Fouls Bane, Ill Earth War, Power that Preserves
The Wounded Land, The One Tree, White Gold Weilder
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2010
When I like a book, I will normally finish it in a couple of days. This book took me about 5 weeks to finish. I had ordered the first volumes in several fantasy series hoping to find a new one I could get in to, and had high hopes for the Thomas Covenant series, but was ultimately disappointed. The 'hero' is vile, selfish and bad-tempered, and whilst that might not mormally be a bad thing, in this instance it was executed without any good humour or forgiveable justification. Whenever an obstacle was placed in Covenant's way, I just plain didn't care if or how he might surmount it. I had no sympathy for his plight. The story itself could have been great, but all the characters were just too earnest and self important. Overall, I would rate this book as 'put down-able' or at best 'tedious'
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2003
This classic fantasy series with Donaldson's bitter anti-hero Thomas Covenant was published in 1977, at the height of the Tolkein-inspired fantasy revival. Many of the clichéd fantasy elements in "Lord Foul's Bane" seem dated by modern standards, but Donaldson's innovative use of the anti-hero in epic fantasy and his uncommonly skilled writing transcend these stock trappings.
Donaldson describes the Land and the people Covenant encounters, but he doesn't develop the workings of the Land or the cultures of its inhabitants to any more than a backdrop level. The early supporting characters shuttle in and out of the story with little lasting impact on the plot or on Covenant. Some of the hackneyed plot points include the arch villain "Lord Foul" who wants to destroy everything, the minor villain "Drool Rockworm" who has discovered a powerful artifact, the pastoral beauty of "the Land," and the fact that only Covenant can save it from utter ruin.
The subtlety of "Lord Foul's Bane" lies in Donaldson's vivid descriptions of Covenant's constant mental fight with his surroundings that is vital to his survival as a leper, and the ambiguity that the Land, where his disease is healed and he is revered, may all be merely a dream. That ambiguity extends to the Land's struggle against Foul, as he may be manipulating the Land to bring about their own doom by asking Covenant to save them. Covenant represents the first 'real' character in fantasy, with complex motivations, selfishness, greed, altruism, a dash of heroism, and heaps of self-doubt.
Donaldson's adeptly describes this inner struggle, and the doom Lord Foul and his minions advance, with eloquent vocabulary and personification. Yet despite Donaldson's skillful writing, the book remains ponderous, perhaps due to the erudite vocabulary or the stock fantasy plot elements, but not because of Covenant's conflicted character.
Donaldson's Tolkein-influenced fantasy clichés fit with other popular late 70s fantasy, such as Terry Brooks's "The Sword of Shannara," but his articulate prose and the innovative bitter anti-hero in a fantasy quest put Donaldson's work above the inept and predictable drivel of most of those writers.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2010
Lord Foul's Bane, the first of Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, predates the 1980s fantasy boom. It would probably have been very easy for Donaldson to knock out a hackneyed Tolkien rip-off like later authors would.
But he didn't. Ignore those reviewers on this site who think that the plot is a Tolkien rip-off; it isn't. It's a fantasy setting, there's a quest, there's a ring. That's about it in terms of common themes. Tolkien wanted to create myths; Donaldson is trying something altogether more literary in the fantasy genre.
I say "trying" because arguably he didn't succeed. Literary critics I think were put off by the fantasy setting. Fantasy readers were often put off by the lead character and the "strangled prose" (more on that below). Thomas Covenant is often described as an anti-hero, but that puts him in the same category as say Elric or Blake's 7's Avon. Covenant isn't a badass sociopath like those two; sociopath yes (but with good reason - 20th century society has turned on him out of prejudice because of his leprosy), but he's too self-pitying (massively so), cowardly, useless, whinging and snivelly to be badass. He is not remotely aspirational as a character, so he's neither hero nor antihero.
And many people cannot deal with that. Many people (including most of the people who gave the book negative reviews on this site) seem to want the lead characters in the books that they read to be either obvious good guys or at worst flawed good guys. Well, if you think like that, then this book is not going to be for you. Walk away now and go and read Harry Potter again. And when you've finished that, move on to Dragonlance or something.
I mentioned what has been described as the author's "strangled prose". SF critic Dave Langford referred to Donaldson as suffering from 'OEDemia'. In short, Donaldson loves his thesaurus. He will use words that are to say the least, uncommon. This never really bothered me, but it might bother you. Again, be warned.
Donaldson's world isn't fleshed out anywhere near as well as other epic fantasy settings, he didn't make up his own languages and he lacks the gift for good fantasy names (yes, there really was a High Lord Kevin). But somehow out of all this, Donaldson came through with one of the great achievements of the fantasy genre. No fantasy author has taken so much trouble over one character as Donaldson did with Covenant. (Let's be honest, most fantasy authors, even the good ones, tend not to waste time on character development when they could be inventing three different languages and drawing maps of their world...)
Much of this first book concerns Covenant's struggles in coming to terms with whether 'The Land' is real or not and the fact that he is healthy, not leprous. In The Land, he is a hero; back home in America, he is an outcast leper. There is a quest involving characters going from point A on the map to point B, just like in many other fantasy epics. Here though, the journey is as much psychological as geographical.
So like I said, not for everyone. It's not a book to persevere with either. If you don't like it after the first few chapters, you won't like the rest of the book. Or the other two books in the trilogy. Or the three books in the 'Second Chronicles'. Or the two books (and counting) in the 'Final Chronicles'. But you might be in that minority of readers who believe fantasy can be challenging. And if you are, you might, just might, think that Lord Foul's Bane is the start to one of the best fantasy series ever written.
on 26 August 2014
The first time I read these books I was blown away but had to read them all again as I felt I'd rushed through them. What made it even more memorable was that I had Rush playing in the background and the music fitted perfectly. Someone should make these into a series of films.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2013
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this review as I felt I wasted enough time reading the book, admittedly I only managed about 120 pages before I threw the book in the bin. I did not even want to donate it to a charity shop and have some other poor soul endure reading it. Thats all I have to say about that.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2009
I kept wondering whether this book was intended to be a satire on the fantasy genre, and if so when would it get funny?
Sadly, I fear that Mr. Donaldson was in deadly earnest with this turkey. To be fair, probably only a modern British reader would find a character named "The High Lord Kevin" so very risible (where was the Priestess Tracy? Or Prince Darren?) but even so the language and style are 100% sixth-former Tolkien wannabe. One physically flinches at every clunky compound word, or strained sub-Tolkien proper noun, or convoluted paragraph of flowery Middle-Earth-speak (the latter often interspersed, jarringly and incongruously, with snippets of thoroughly modern vocabulary and idioms).
The plot and the setting are also largely ripped off from Tolkien and yet are dull and flat, lacking any of Tolkien's evident love for his fantasy world and palpable fear for it's likely fate. Donaldson seems to care little for *his* incarnation, and as a result, nor did I.
But worst of all are the characters. They are all entirely wooden and tedious without any vitality to make you like them or care about them. The portrayal of Covenant himself has been lauded by some as offering some kind of psychological insight, but really all you get is the same thing repeated over and over and over again: he's a shallow, bitter, self-centred jerk who we don't like and who doesn't like himself.
The only saving grace in this codswallop is that you will know very early on whether you will get on with the book. When Covenant inexplicably rapes the inoffensive Lena, if you throw the book at the wall don't bother picking it up again...
Truly it's hard to read a book wherein your only feeling for the main protagonist is that he should drop dead as soon as possible.